Turquoise lagoons flanked by sprawling sandy beaches-what’s not to love? It’s the picturesque epitome of what peace and serenity mean to many people. But those are just the physical attributes of our ‘idyllic’ island, what about the quality of life that our million and a half (or so) population have to contend with? Why is the outcry more thunderous than it used to be?
How come decades of incremental growth has not resulted in the annihilation of absolute poverty, let alone relative poverty, which is gradually leaving its imprint on our society? Is this directly attributable to our faults as a nation, or should we look elsewhere for the perfect patsy? Here are 3 possible reasons why, in spite of being the ‘richest’ country in Africa as per ‘income per capita’, we are grappling with a rise in relative poverty.
1. Education policies that do not benefit the mainstay of the population
Say what you will about our political leaders, but at least in the beginning they delivered the goods. The ‘Free Education’ policy has had the game changing impact of untethering us from our ‘primary-sector’ based livelihood, which gradually paved the way for service-based industries, the tourism industry and the textile industry among other things. Knowing that resource-wise, we didn’t have much going on, our leaders at the time chose to imbue knowledge in the youth to ensure that our society wouldn’t crumble, a la Somalia.
But despite these providential policies, reports have shown that up to 100 000 people are living in relative poverty, which is the threshold where households aren’t able to keep up with the ‘median-income’ tier. This is nearly 10% of our population and it’s no coincidence that the poverty trap seems to be an unwilling one indeed. Our education policies-while they’ve rightly benefited hundreds of thousands of people-have not led us to become more entrepreneurial and entrepreneurship is the cornerstone of any robust economy! As if to concur with this sentiment, last month it was revealed hundreds of small and medium enterprises had shut down.
A lack of entrepreneurial education, in tandem with a worrying dropout rate among high schoolers have led us to believe that maybe the education process ought to be revamped. Not in the idiosyncratically blinkered way that our government has gotten us accustomed to, but in a more far-sighted realistic way that would ensure everyone would get the education they’re qualified for-those who aren’t characteristically fitted for academic achievement should be guided toward apprenticeship and technical courses. Why else would they recruit foreign engineers, if there weren’t a known dearth in the educational process?
In a very short span of time, we’ve seen our coastal regions blossom into posh provinces, and this has led to a very genuine problem that happens the world over-gentrification. Gentrification in itself isn’t a pressing issue when the locals can afford the rates being offered in the market, but in our case it certainly is. Rural poverty is a scourge in Mauritius, more-so because in recent years, infrastructural development for the sole purpose of attracting tourists is pushing locals to the sidelines. As a result, they cannot buy real estate at competitive prices, they do not have purchasing power parity and they fall into a ‘relative’ poverty trap, exacerbated by rising prices to accommodate to high-income clienteles.
The government doesn’t seem to care much about this, although it’s pretty clear they should be investing in the working class to spark genuine, cross-sectional economic development. Instead they aim for the pecuniary benefits of the short term at the expense of plunging a vast majority of people under the poverty threshold.
3. Lack of realistic career planning
Anyone who has attended a local tertiary institution would have known how scant their transitory guidelines are because there’s a much bigger emphasis on attending a tertiary institution per se than there is on what the economy actually needs at the moment. So we have a bunch of ‘Sociology’ graduates who will certainly fall behind in the race for a meaningful job and there are other vacuous degree courses on offer that certainly aren’t aligned with the realistic demands of the job market.
People often have to pursue another degree, on top of the one they strived to get because they didn’t evaluate the relevance of their studies in relation to job options. So in order to mitigate youth unemployment or unemployment altogether (metrics of poverty), there has to be a decent nationwide framework that enumerates all the sectors of the economy that need to be filled with specific occupations.
4. Petty tribalism?
This one has to be the deus ex machina of the lot because it’s far more implicit and perhaps explains the crux of what we’re facing. If we look at countries that maintained a gradual growth and actually implemented rigorous policies to eradicate income inequality, there’s something that stands out. Most of these countries have a very homogeneous culture and they don’t indulge in petty tribalism nor in letting religion dictate their way of life. Mauritius has hundreds of thousands of people who are more interested in their own selfish aspirations rather than to help their poor counterparts get out of abject poverty. It is a sort of coping mechanism that tells them that they’ve made it, contrary to the other ‘cultural’ tribes, whom they regard with the deepest contempt.
Imagine if they actually realized they were all made of the same fiber, imagine if competition was not based on schadenfreude but on patriotism-the drive to making society more equal and less brutish for the low income tiers. But sadly, when ‘advisers’ to the Prime Minister are making tenfold the amount of the average Mauritian, can we just stop pretending that curbing poverty was even on the agenda?